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When Good Memory Doesn’t Help

I have been emphasizing on the understanding of Mathematics questions umpteenth time. Most of the time, a student is unable to solve the problem because he or she does not understand the Mathematics question.

There is this student who has very good memory but the good memory does not help him in solving Mathematics questions.

Background of the student: When he was in Primary One (7 years old), his Mathematics teacher at school has scolded him a lot of times and almost given up on him. He has developed a phobia for Mathematics since then. Thus far, in Primary Two, he is surviving in Mathematics by “memorizing” Mathematics questions.

Let’s look at the example 1,

Jane had S$ 5. Her father gave her S$ 10 as pocket-money. How much money does she have now?

5 + 10 = 15

Now she has S$ 15.



Example 1 is a common question for lower Primary Mathematics. The keyword is “Her father gave her”, so the operation used is addition. The question is straightforward and can be solved easily.

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Let’s look at example 2,

Jenny had S$ 5. Her mother gave her some amount of money. Now she has S$ 15. How much money did her mother give her?

Both examples look similar, but they are different. After reading the question to the aforementioned student, he insists to use the operation addition to solve the problem because of the phrase “her mother gave her”. He told me, his school Mathematics teacher taught him, gave = addition.

Therefore, I spent time explaining the question to him and finally we solved the problem using the operation subtraction.

I can understand the frustration of the school Mathematics teacher when he or she needs to spend time to explain one question to only one student who does not seem to understand. He or she has the whole class to take care of; giving attention to only one student is not an option.

Nonetheless, I hope that school Mathematics teachers do not teach the students, especially younger students, to memorize questions. THIS DOES NOT HELP!

I have upper primary students who face the same problem because of the understanding issue. With the phobia and the memorization, the same problem is repeated in a cycle until they meet a teacher who can patiently explain the questions to them. By then, whether they are willing to accept the “understanding of the question” method is another problem to solve.

For parents, if you find out that your children face problem at school, please communicate with the school teachers in a tactful way. Extra lessons or remedial lessons for your children are meant to help your children. Also, listen to the advice with an open heart. It may be difficult to accept that your children are slow in learning (Who would want his or her child to be labelled as stupid?), but cooperation with the school teachers will help the children more.

Furthermore, parents can also help the children at home by doing revision together with the children. No matter how busy is your schedule, I believe there is nothing more important than the children. When the children grow old, it is more difficult to mend the problem.

Even if there is no feedback from the school teachers, parents may take the initiative to ask the school teachers on the progress of the children and how they are coping at school. Some children might be too shy to ask questions even though they do not understand. This will create bigger problem in future.

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1. The Mathematics questions are purely created for discussion purpose. Any resemblance to actual questions from books or schools is coincidental.

2. The student is a case study for parents, teachers and tutors alike to understand why your children or students have phobia in Mathematics. Hopefully we can create a joyful environment for children to learn Mathematics.



  1. Belindq says:

    This is so true especially for children who is poor on maths. I have a friend’s child who already solved a maths problem correctly but she insisted of adding 1 to the answer as she said her teacher taught her to do that before. However, it was not the same question her teacher taught her previously. That method was only used specifically for that particular question. Her child thought as both questions are about age, the method can be used for every case which is not always true.

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